WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The United States is inching closer to averaging 50,000 new coronavirus cases each day — a mark the country hasn’t seen since mid August.
COVID-19 cases have been steadily increasing since September 12. As of Monday, the 7-day average in case increases was 15% as more than 40 states were labeled as having a high or increasing number of infections, according to the New York Times.
This comes as record-high daily cases hit several European countries. Spain declared a state of emergency for Madrid amid increasing tensions between local and national authorities over virus containment measures. Germany offered up soldiers to help with contact tracing in newly flaring hotspots. Italy mandated masks outdoors and warned that for the first time since the country became the European epicenter of the pandemic, the health system was facing “significant critical issues” as hospitals fill up.
So is this the “second wave” or coronavirus cases everyone has been talking about? Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, says no.
“Given the fact that we have never got down to a good baseline, we are still in the first wave,” Fauci told CNN a couple weeks ago.
During the 1918 pandemic, the number of cases plummeted before exploding during the colder months later in the year.
“Rather than say, ‘A second wave,’ why don’t we say, ‘Are we prepared for the challenge of the fall and the winter?’” Fauci said.
Since the height of the coronavirus pandemic this past spring, experts have been warning about a second spike likely to hit the U.S. before the end of 2020. According to most experts, this could arrive as early as late October and hit its peak in December.
A highly-sourced model from University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts a daily death toll around 940 on Election Day — which would be dramatically higher than the 700 a day we’re seeing now.
As we move into early December, the model shows deaths climbing to 1,500 each day before peaking at around 2,300 in late January.
The model predicts the U.S. will have 323,000 deaths by the end of 2020. It includes a best-case scenario of 277,000 deaths and a worst-case scenario of 351,000.
“My feeling is that there is a wave coming, and it’s not so much whether it’s coming but how big is it going to be,” Eili Klein, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the Washington Post in September.
Respiratory viruses tend to spread more easily in cooler weather with less humidity. The experts say those conditions allow viruses to remain viable for longer periods of time.
Additionally, people tend to stay indoors in colder months.
To date, infection spikes have typically followed the loosening of restrictions or shutdown orders. With many states doing that and kids returning to school, we’re already seeing an increase in cases across more than 30 states. In fact, the New York Times reports a 15% increase in nationwide coronavirus cases over the last 14 days.
While deaths dropped 5% during that same period, experts warn spikes in deaths typically lag far behind infection rates because of the virus’ extended incubation period.
“I expect fall waves starting in mid-October and getting worse as fall heads into winter, and reaching a crescendo certainly after the election,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California at Irvine, in an interview with the Washington Post. “Some places will peak around Thanksgiving, some places will peak around Christmas, some places not until January and February.”
The best way to avoid dying from the coronavirus remains to avoid getting it, and experience has shown that the simple measures advocated by public health officials work.
“Prevention is the most important step right now as we’re waiting for a vaccine and we’re improving treatment,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief scientist now at Georgetown University.
Wearing a face mask, washing hands, keeping at least 6 feet apart and disinfecting surfaces have shown a positive effect on curbing spread.
If more people stick with common-sense measures like closing bars, “we should improve our ability to manage this” and prevent more deaths, said Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, a former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist now at the nonprofit group Resolve to Save Lives. “It should take longer to get to the next million if it ever happens.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.